Posts Tagged ‘Kings’

Kings say they are still behind McLemore


VIDEO: Ben McLemore scored 11 points as the Kings beat the Bulls

LAS VEGAS – Here’s a statement. Two of them actually, packaged into one big picture: Ben McLemore, the shooting guard the Kings drafted in the lottery in 2013, insisted he didn’t read too much into it when the Kings used another lottery pick on another shooting guard in the 2014 draft, and team officials, naturally, say they remain committed as ever to McLemore’s future in Sacramento.

It’s all good, right? McLemore came to summer league with the proper attitude, if pressing at first, and followed that up by playing well, making 52.2 percent of his attempts and averaging 14.6 points in five games as a major part of the Kings reaching the Sunday evening semifinals of the tournament format at Thomas & Mack Center, which concludes Monday. He is doing a lot of the right things and saying all the right things.

But, look. There’s Nik Stauskas.

The Kings just drafted someone who plays the same position, a year after being overjoyed to get McLemore in 2013, complete with the emotional bends of trying hard to trade up to get him, finding no deal, and then having the Kansas product fall to their laps at No. 7.

The Kings made it a priority this offseason to add perimeter shooting, and that is Stauskas’ specialty, the primary appeal to taking him at No. 8 as part of a portfolio that also includes being able to handle the ball well enough to project as a secondary playmaker and the experience in pressure situations of one run to the national-title game at Michigan and another to the Elite Eight.

In the singular moment, with Stauskas surrounded in positives, the Kings had a good 2014 draft. It’s just that it may also become a new perspective on the direction of their 2013 draft. That is the other statement.

“I told him,” coach Michael Malone said of McLemore, ” ‘Listen, we drafted Nik Stauskas. That’s not any slight on you. We still believe in you. You’re still our guy and we still expect great things from you from Year 1 to Year 2.’ I think he came out to Summer League after one year in the NBA thinking he had to score 20 points a game. It’s not about that. It’s playing the right way as we try to instill more ball movement.”

Playing the first couple games like someone hearing footsteps, although saying he didn’t have a problem with the Stauskas pick, McLemore responded by scoring 18, 22 and 11 points the next three outings while shooting 64.3 percent and adding six rebounds on two occasions. Stauskas has also had a good summer, at 48.6 percent from the field in five outings, 57.1 percent from behind the arc, and 10.4 points.

Their play has been a key factor in the Kings reaching the semifinals against the Wizards. The winner of that game faces the winner of Hornets-Rockets on Monday night for the title.

Losing Collison is not the only problem the Clippers are facing

Darren Collison's move to the Kings is just the beginning of the Clips' challenges. (Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

Darren Collison’s move is just the beginning of the Clips’ new challenges. (Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty Images)

At least it is basketball adversity now instead of You Know Who turbulence. But it’s still the Clippers in what could become an increasingly difficult time, wanting to take the next step after reaching the Western Conference semifinals last season but seeing offseason challenges all around them.

Thursday, backup point guard Darren Collison jumped to the Kings for a three-year deal worth a reported $16 million and, he told Dan Woike of the Orange County Register, because “Sacramento is giving me the keys to help this team and try to turn it around.” The Kings gave him a clear path to the starting job, in other words, an important consideration for Collison while understanding he would always be behind Chris Paul in Los Angeles, not to mention a development Isaiah Thomas will obviously keep in mind as a restricted free agent who just saw his job in Northern California given away again.

If it was Collison alone, the Clippers could take a deep breath and move ahead with the conviction that they simply were not going to spend more than $5 million a season for a reserve behind the best point guard in the world. As much as Collison helped a 57-win team, they could grab another free agent for less with master recruiter Doc Rivers. The Clips will wish him well on the payday and the opportunity they could not match.

But if this turns out to be one of several hits, obviously depending on the outcome at backup point guard, the Clippers will have a lot more to prove than whether they can get beyond the second round.

These are also the days of Pau Gasol considering Oklahoma City and San Antonio as free-agent destinations, even though it would mean a bigger pay cut than he was already facing. The defending champs getting Gasol on the cheap or the Thunder landing Gasol at a bargain rate — that’s a problem for the rest of the league in general and in particular anyone trying to come up on them in the crowded West. The Clippers, and the Rockets and the Trail Blazers and the Warriors, need Gasol to chase the money more than the ring.

Plus, the Clippers continue to search for help at small forward. They drafted Reggie Bullock in the first round in 2013, but he wasn’t ready and, based on the phone calls being fired off to free agents, still isn’t. They signed Danny Granger and Hedo Turkoglu for the stretch drive last season, but that was a patch job with little chance to last into 2014-15.

So they’re still looking. Maybe Paul Pierce, Rivers’ guy with the championship Celtics, maybe others through free agency or trade, but small forward is essentially unmanned, to where Collison knew that opening was impacting his own place with the team.

“I was a priority for them to sign, but I wasn’t the top priority,” Collison said told the Register. “And that’s understandable.”

A few days into free agency and the Clippers are confronted with several issues, trying to solve their own issues on the wing and now at backup point guard while taking a seat in the front row of the watch party on Gasol’s decision. They still have time and money, but if the offseason goes bad, they will also have a lot of doubts to answer as camp opens. That’s understandable too.

5 restricted free agents worth chasing

Smaller guards Isaiah Thomas and Eric Bledsoe could get some looks this summer. (Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

Despite their stature, Isaiah Thomas and Eric Bledsoe are big-time guards. (Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

The unrestricted free agents are the ones that draw the most attention every summer, and for good reason. You pick your team and you go there. It’s all clean and simple.

It’s those restricted free agents that muddy the waters. The would-be new team has to overpay to get their attention and then the current team is put on the spot to match. Think the Pacers wouldn’t like to re-think that $58 million commitment they made to Roy Hibbert two summers ago when the Trail Blazers put them on the spot with an offer to their big man?

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the top five restricted free agents who’ll be available on July 1:

Eric Bledsoe, Guard, Phoenix Suns — After the Big Three of LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh, the 24-year-old shooting guard is the top player available in free agency, though he will come at a cost. He missed 39 games with injury, but averaged 17.7 points, 5.5 assists, 4.7 rebounds and 1.6 steals in the half season played and makes a great slashing backcourt combination with Goran Dragic. The Suns were 28-15 with him in the lineup and GM Ryan McDonough says the team will match any offer out there to keep him. Since Phoenix has plenty of salary cap space, he’ll be able to do it, even if McDonough has to grit his teeth.

Greg Monroe, Forward, Detroit Pistons – He might as well have spent the past four seasons pedaling on a stationary bicycle, getting nowhere fast with the Pistons. He’s a solid big man who gives you the feeling he might turn into an All-Star level performer with the right coaching on the right team. Since he arrived in Detroit, the Pistons added Andre Drummond and Josh Smith on their front line and there simply wasn’t room for all three in the rotation. With Joe Dumars — the GM who drafted him — gone, Drummond a foundation player and Smith perhaps untradeable (or is he?), it would seem the Pistons won’t want to lay out big money to keep him. If the Rockets strike out shooting for the big names, he’d be a good consolation prize. The New Orleans native might also fit nicely with the Pelicans, if they could find the salary space.

Chandler Parsons, Forward, Houston Rockets — Houston rolled the dice on the Parsons, choosing not to pick up his option in an attempt to clear the most salary cap space to pursue James, Anthony or Bosh. The 6-foot-9 leaper and shooter has been a high-energy gem since the Rockets plucked him in the second round in 2011. He can get to the basket, fill it up from behind the 3-point line and isn’t afraid to stick his nose in on defense. He won’t lead a team, but is a solid third option, exactly the role he’s been playing in Houston. If the Rockets get a name-brand star, he’d go to fourth option and that could make a pricey offer from another team too rich to match. There are a lot of teams where he could slide right into the lineup and really blossom.

Gordon Hayward, Forward, Utah Jazz – After four seasons, it’s pretty clear the Jazz aren’t completely convinced, as evidenced by not agreeing on a contract extension prior to last season. It seems Hayward thinks he should be paid as part of a 1-2 punch, but the truth is he’s probably more of a No. 3 type, just like Parsons. When he was put into the primary scorer role last season, his shooting numbers went down. He needs to land in a spot where he can play off his teammates, especially passers, and get back to being a very solid complementary part. Chances are, he wants to be paid a good bit more than the Jazz think he’s worth and therefore could be “gettable.” The trick will be not to overpay him by too much.

Isaiah Thomas, Guard, Sacramento Kings -- The 5-foot-9 dynamo put up 20.3 points, 6.3 assists and 1.3 steals last season. He’s a hard worker, but definitely a score-first point guard at a position that requires spreading the ball around. His biggest deficiency is on defense, where his lack of size makes him too easy for opponents to pick and exploit. The Kings go through point guards faster than pairs of basketball shoes and now they seem to be leaning heavily toward the new flavor of the month in Ray McCallum. His lack of stature will limit the size of the stack of big bills placed in front of him in an offer, but still could be enough to land him in a new home.

Divac aiming for NBA return next season

Former beloved Kings center and Shaq tormentor Vlade Divac hopes to join an NBA coaching staff soon.

Former beloved Kings center and Shaq tormentor Vlade Divac hopes to join an NBA coaching staff soon.

TREVISO, Italy – This was pure Vlade Divac, awash in endless optimism while dealing with the latest in a life of personal tragedies, expressing hope he will soon return to the NBA, smiling a lot and volleying that, honestly, he didn’t get a good seat on the Spurs bandwagon because Divac is Serbian and Gregg Popovich has Serbian roots.

Divac was sitting in a chair on the baseline of one of the three gyms at the La Ghirada Sports Complex a few days ago after an appearance as a guest speaker at the adidas Eurocamp. It is a time of particular upheaval, five months after his father had been killed in a car crash in Serbia that also injured his mother, possibly a few months before he will move back to the United States to join a front office, all while serving as head of the Serbian Olympic committee as his daughter attends high school in Belgrade, one son is in college in California and another in New York. But one of the most-likable players of his or any other NBA generation seems as at ease as ever.

He grew up in the former Yugoslavia, lived through a war there that caused death and destruction all around him with the collateral damage of an emotional divide that ended friendships. He had a 16-year NBA run and a highly decorated international career. And now he is trying to get back to the future.

NBA.com: What would you like to do when you come back to the U.S.?

Divac: I would definitely find some involvement in the NBA with some team. Right after my retirement, I was doing some scouting for the Lakers. I tried to see how management works. I went to Real Madrid, worked for them for a year. That helped me to kind of develop some interest in management. So now my second term on the Olympic committee of Serbia — and I’m so proud of that, we did a great job — so something in management.

NBA.com: Have you had any conversations with anybody?

Divac: With the Kings, yeah. We’ll see.

NBA.com: What do you think you would do with them?

Divac: My ultimate goal is one day — it doesn’t have to be tomorrow or two days, three days — I want to be a GM. Go level by level.

NBA.com: Have they told you “When you’re ready to come over, we definitely want you”?

Divac: No. We just talked. I told them my view about plans. We’ll see.

NBA.com: I know it’s been a difficult time the last few months. How are you doing with the tragedy in your personal life?

Divac: OK. Life is a roller-coaster. You just have to balance. There’s always tomorrow.

NBA.com: Has it been difficult?

Divac: Sometimes, yeah. Sometimes. But when you look, there’s a lot of different stories, worse stories, than my life. What are you going to do?

NBA.com: And you’ve lived through a lot of those in your younger days.

Divac: Yeah. Absolutely.

NBA.com: Do you think you have a unique perspective, different than a lot of other people because of what you (grew up around) in your
youth?

Divac: Of course. If you went through things like that, you just learn how things can change the next day. Either positive or negative. Even when you’re so high and positive, you have to keep a balance.

NBA.com: Do you still watch a lot of NBA?

Divac: I do.

NBA.com: What jumps out to you about the game now compared to when you played?

Divac: It’s obviously more physical and faster. What bothers me is the tendency for low-post guys to not play with their back to the basket. It’s more facing. I think basketball needs that inside-outside game. If it doesn’t have that, that’s like taking heart from basketball.

NBA.com: Do you have a favorite player?

Divac: No. But I have a favorite team. I think the Spurs is a team that plays basketball the way it’s supposed to be. Sharing the ball. Gregg is a great coach.

NBA.com: What’s his background? What’s his heritage?

Divac: He’s a Serbian. But I’m not saying that because of that. You know how many people I met in the NBA. Jerry West, Gregg Popovich — that’s my two favorite guys. Even though they are totally, completely different, I have a lot of respect for them.

NBA.com: How much would your game have been changed by these new flopping rules that are in place now?

Divac: They wouldn’t take that away from me. Especially playing against Shaq. I mentioned that’s not my rule. That’s Shaq’s rule. He forced us to do that. I think it’s good that they changed because whenever you overdue it, it just takes away from the game.

NBA.com: How much money would you have been fined? How much money would you have lost over the years?

Divac: Not that much. I was doing that just against the Lakers, when I played Shaq. I don’t know. I think it’s good that they put it in. Games, that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

NBA.com: You would have had to get a new contract, right, just to pay all your fine money?

Divac: The agent would make a clause. ‘The team pays the fine.’ Because I was doing that for the team, not for me.

Rudy Gay sorting through options about next season

By Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com


VIDEO: Rudy Gay drops 30 points on Dallas Saturday night

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – He says he has not made a decision on the $19.3 million on the table or whether he wants to remain with the Kings at any price. He has so not made a decision, Rudy Gay insists, that he is asked to list a couple factors that will go into the final call and responds, “I don’t know.”

It is long after another loss at Sleep Train Arena, this time to the Knicks, in a near-empty locker room after most teammates have left. Gay is sitting in front of his stall, showered and changed and contemplating the unexpected search for career stability.

Memphis for 6 ½ seasons, and then suddenly Toronto and Sacramento in a little more than 10 months, and the career intersection over whether to stay in the current contract with $19.3 million on the books for 2014-15 or declare himself a free agent is approaching. In that setting, feeling so undefined about the future is actually understandable.

“What does my gut tell me?” Gay says of the looming decision and possibly decisions, plural. “I don’t know. My gut tells me different things every day.”

There is this, though: A lot of his comments land on the side of staying with the Kings, whether under the existing deal or by becoming a free agent that would mean giving back a large portion of the next season’s money in exchange for a the security of a larger payout over longer time. It’s light years from Gay committing to Sacramento — and in fact he says he doesn’t want to put numbers on the chances he stays “because right now I’m giving it my all and for me to tell them I’m going to be gone next year, that wouldn’t be fair” — but it is interesting.

Being 28 at the start of next training camp and being on a team that just finished at or very near the bottom of the Western Conference? “I’m not the age right now where I just have to be on a championship team,” he says. “Right now, I’m at the age where I can still make a good team great. Rebuilding, I possibly could do that too. Those are the things I have to weigh. Do I want to be on the rebuilding side? Do I want to make a good team great?”

Wanting to feel a connection where he works and lives? “These people have been so great to me. They’ve been really great to me, to my family. They’ve been great. The coaches have all welcomed with me with open arms. Everybody in the organization. Vivek (Ranadive), he’s a great owner. I think this team will be good in the future. I do think so. I’m not throwing out the notion that I will be here. They know that they have a chance of me being here.”

The thought of another life change? “It’s tough moving around when you have a family. I have a kid on the way. It’s tough. I want to be settled, obviously, and I want to be comfortable. That has a lot to do with it.” (Which is double-sided, of course. Gay may decide to hit free agency now to get the next move out of the way, rather than another season in Sacramento and the open market in summer 2015.)

And the money. Of course the money. No way he walks away from $19.3 million, right? He’s staying in the deal and will be a King at least next season, right?

“I don’t think about that at all,” he says. “I love this game. I don’t play it for money. Obviously it’s a very big plus that we make a lot to play this game, but I think it’s more important to be happy.”

But people say no one leaves that kind of money on the table.

“They’re not in the NBA,” Gay says. “Those people don’t do the job and work as hard as I do.”

So it is possible he trades the $19.3 million for a longer deal now rather than postponing the life decision another season.

“Everything’s possible. I work hard. I work very hard. I feel as though when you work hard and you do things the right way, at the end of the day you will be rewarded. Whether it’s taking that year or whether it’s opting out and signing a new contract, I feel like I will be rewarded for my hard work.”

Because either outcome is possible. Because he said he has not made a decision.

“I think I can have a future here for sure,” Gay says. “For sure. With the people we have in the front office, with the coaches, I definitely fit in here. It’s just when you get here, you’re set and you’re settled and everything’s blown over, when you have your contract and everything’s set, no matter where you are, it’s just where do we go from there? I’m looking forward to weighing my options.”

Hall of Fame debate: Mitch Richmond

By Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com

Nicknamed 'The Rock', Mitch Richmond

Nicknamed ‘The Rock’, Mitch Richmond posted 21 ppg in 14 NBA seasons.

Mitch Richmond is a finalist for the Hall of Fame and solid candidate for Springfield, Mass., when inductees from the North American committee, the group that handles most candidates with NBA ties, are announced April 7 at the Final Four. But his name and career does not resonate today the same as contemporaries on the ballot, Alonzo Mourning as likely the leading candidate, former Warriors teammate Tim Hardaway with the perception advantage of starring with high-octane Golden State plus the glam of Miami, and Kevin Johnson with the boost of recent years in the news as mayor while partnering with David Stern to save professional basketball in Sacramento.

The Richmond legacy, meanwhile? As the M (Mitch) partnering with Hardaway and Chris Mullin, good friends to this day, in the Run TMC scoring festival in Golden State. That’s the image.

The Richmond truth? He was a Warrior only three seasons, the same time he spent in Washington and far behind the seven campaigns of running marathons on broken glass in bare feet with the Kings. Sacramento was his real career home base.

Sacramento was also where his Hall candidacy received his greatest boost, strange as it sounds with those three seasons of less than 30 wins and the four others of no more than 39. Never touching .500 or better than fifth place in the seven-team Pacific Division, it turns out decades later, has become one of the selling points for enshrinement.


VIDEO: Mitch Richmond quickly became a household name as a member of the Warriors

Seven losing teams, seven chances for opponents to pull out the familiar refrain that the run of averaging 22 or 23 points a game was simply putting up big numbers on a bad team, and they cared not at all. Six times in those seven seasons, coaches put him on the All-Star team would it would have been easily understandable to run from anything connected to the Kings of the 1990s, not embrace it. Coaches putting him on that pedestal is a very loud statement.

Seven losing teams, seven chances for the media to pelt Richmond with the verbal stones of a supposed star getting Sacramento to the playoffs just once, the 39-43 Kings of 1995-96 that lost 3-1 to the SuperSonics in the first round, and still massive appreciation. He made second-team All-NBA in 1993-94 (on a 28-54 club), 1994-95 (39-43) and 1996-97 (34-48) and third-team in 1995-96 and 1997-98 (27-55).

Richmond averaged 21 points a game in 14 seasons with the Warriors, Kings, Bullets and Lakers, even with the 4.1 of the closing act of 2001-02 in Los Angeles, and had 10 years in a row of at least 21.9. He was a star as a junior and senior at Kansas State — college careers are weighed as well — and won gold (1996) and bronze (1988) with the U.S. Olympic team. There was also the 2002 NBA championship with the Lakers while Richmond logged 11.1 minutes in the regular season and four total minutes in two appearances in the playoffs.

“When I played with Tim Hardaway, Chris Mullin, Run TMC, Sarunas Marciulionis, it was easy to play,” Richmond said. “I still got my points, but I played with players that made the game easier. It’s harder to play on a team that’s not winning and to try to keep that going when you know every guy is trying to trap you and bring in a whole defensive set for you. It’s more work. It’s not an easy thing. If I just roll over and don’t play well, then what? I’m a bust.

But I went out every night trying to do the best I can and trying to do my job. When you look at me, I wasn’t a selfish guy. I felt like I played hard, I played both ends of the floor. But sometimes you get with an organization that everything doesn’t click. That shouldn’t stop you from looking at a guy’s numbers different than if the guy was somewhere else.”

Richmond cites the reaching 20,000 points as the primary boost for the candidacy, but the bigger push in that regard is being 37th on the career scoring list when everyone ahead of him except Vince Carter is either already enshrined or an easy in when the time comes. There’s not even a debate on the others.

“I think I’m the only guy with 20,000 points that is not in the Hall of Fame,” Richmond said. “All the other guys are still playing, everybody else is in. And I think more than anything, even though I played on some rough teams, my peers understood that I tried to play both ends of the court. I hope that’s enough.”

Antawn Jamison, who may or may not be retired, and Tom Chambers are also past 20,000, but point taken. Richmond has a case.


VIDEO: Mitch Richmond talks with NBA TV about his Hall of Fame nomination

Kings’ Royce White quietly plays for the first time

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Royce White finally made his NBA debut Friday night, and the strangest thing happened.

Nothing.

No bright spotlight after all the attention of the last two seasons, no great expectations after entering the league as the No. 16 pick in 2012 with a unique skill set that intrigued front offices, no memorable moments after all the regrettable moments. Just a guy on a second 10-day contract going in for the last 56.1 seconds with his team about to lose by 20 points, hoping for the chance to show he deserves to be signed for the rest of what little remains of the season.

Friday night at Sleep Train Arena was about the Spurs extending their win streak to 12 despite shooting 38.7 percent in a 99-79 victory, not White getting on the court for the first time in a regular-season game as a member of his third team in the NBA, not to mention two in the D-League. This was not such a bad thing. After all the acrimony in his relationship with the Rockets, the team that drafted him as a 6-foot-8, 250-pounder who could cause matchup problems as a point forward, after being dumped on the 76ers in a trade and being cut before playing for Philadelphia, simple was fine.

And simple was what he got: 56 seconds and zeroes across the stat line after one practice and one shootaround with the Kings as coach Michael Malone gave White a quick run in advance of the longer looks that will surely come in the days ahead, starting Sunday against the Bucks at Sleep Train.

The important detail, White said, is that those days ahead will include next Friday at Oklahoma City. At Oklahoma City. He will be on the team charter, in other words, hoping to put to rest any uncertainty about whether anxiety issues and subsequent disagreements on treatment and how to handle difficulty with flying contributed to a contentious relationship with the Rockets.

White said he will be at every game if he is eventually signed for the rest of the season, with travel details to be worked out amid the possibility of being able to drive from OKC to Dallas, for example, for the back-to-back. Those are things that can be discussed if their arrangement becomes something more than the 10-day deal he signed March 6 to join the Kings’ D-League affiliate in Reno, followed by another 10-day on March 18.

One of the only things he knows for sure at this point is that it feels different than his season with the Rockets of disagreements over treatments and D-League stints with Rio Grande Valley that led nowhere.

“Oh, yeah,” White said. “It feels a lot different. In all fairness to Houston, they were in a much different position. A lot of things, they couldn’t make a ruling on themselves as much as the league. They had to wait on a lot of OKs and things from people. It was a real complex situation. But it feels very different. Everything’s different. The organization’s different, the city’s different, the people are different, my teammates are different.”

“Are you different?”

“I’m probably the least different out of the entire equation,” White said. “But I’m in a different place. I’m definitely feeling more comfortable with the ability to have a successful career in this league.”

He went unsigned for three-quarters of 2013-14 in a dramatic lack of interest for a first-round pick a season before, so White admits this could be his chance — ” Those thoughts do come where it’s like, ‘If this doesn’t work out, will I even go at it again?’ “

This is a very good place to start the comeback, though, or, really, start the start. The Kings need talent, White has that, and the Kings are in the unwanted perfect position at 24-45 to use the final three weeks to try out players and lineups.

Plus, they need him almost as much as he needs them. Sacramento is desperate for distributors, one of the reasons they will look at other point guards in the summer even if Isaiah Thomas is re-signed as a restricted free agent, as expected, and White’s draft stock was based largely on his passing ability from either forward spot. If DeMarcus Cousins is a scorer, Rudy Gay is a scorer and Thomas is a scorer, having someone at any position capable of delivering the ball would be welcome.

“The question was asked yesterday, ‘Is your hope that Royce’s playmaking ability, do you hope that’s contagious?’ ” Malone said. “Obviously you don’t want to be a team that is just a dribble, dribble, dribble, shoot and not pass to the open man. We want to be a team that’s hard to guard…. Having a guy out there that will make plays for his teammates and find the open man is always is a welcome sight for us.”

There was no chance in 56.1 seconds to see any of that Friday. But there was an appearance. It was a start, and after everything that has happened in two seasons, that was more than nothing.

Suns hot pick in NBA March Madness

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com

The selection committee has done its job, the field is complete and now the intrigue starts all around the NBA — filling out those March Madness brackets.

But for a different kind of insanity, we thought it might be fun to go into a few arenas and locker rooms to ask one question: If the NBA playoffs were set up like the NCAA Tournament, who would be your Butler, a below-the-radar team capable of making a deep run?

Ray Allen, Heat: “In an NCAA format, one game and advance, anything is possible. Charlotte’s a team that would be dangerous. They can get hot. They’ve developed confidence. They play hard. They’re running a new system. Atlanta is a team that’s running a San Antonio offensive system and they play good defense. Both of those can really play defense. So if you put them in win-or-you’re-out format, teams like those that always play hard and don’t care about who their opponent is, they’re gonna be capable. There would definitely be more drama in that kind of a playoff system. Obviously, it would never get to that because of all the money that’s at stake over the long playoff series. But as players, you would appreciate it. You’d have to leave it all out there on the line. And every night — with the best players in the NBA going at it — it would really be madness. There would be some true grudge matches. Oh, that would be interesting.”

Mario Chalmers, Heat: “Dallas. That’s a team with weapons and can score.”

Roy Hibbert, Pacers: “In the East, I could see Toronto and Charlotte doing that. Even Chicago. In the West, Phoenix has played great a surprise people all year. Phoenix has a style of play that’s fast-paced and they have guys that are built for that.”


VIDEO: The Beat crew discusses the Suns’ solid season to date

Jeff Van Gundy, ESPN analyst: “Memphis. Because of the style they play. Who else plays like Memphis? Who else has those two big guys like Z-Bo (Zach Randolph) and (Marc) Gasol to beat you up and wear you down. That’s a team that could walk into a tournament setting, get on a real roll and just start knocking people out. And in the East I’d say Chicago for a lot of the same reasons. They don’t have those two big bangers in the low post, but with Noah and the middle and the aggressiveness and the ferocity that they play with, the Bulls could make a tournament very interesting and tough on everyone.”

Chandler Parsons, Rockets: “I like Phoenix as my Butler in the West, because they’re so explosive offensively. In transition they’d get out and they’d beat a lot of good teams. In the East, I like Chicago. They’re playing really well. Joakim (Noah)has been unbelievable for them. He’s doing everything, getting triple-doubles. Plus they’re such a good defensive team. Those are definitely two teams you don’t want to see in the NBA playoffs and in an NCAA Tournament type scenario with sudden-death, no way. Even Memphis, if they sneak in at No 8 in the West. That’s a team that could do a lot of damage. Us? We’re above that Butler level. We’re Florida. We’re Duke.”

Matt Bonner, Spurs: “Phoenix. It’s about style of play. It’s about scoring points from a lot of different places. It’s about playing at a fast pace. Definitely Phoenix.”

Shane Battier, Heat: “Who is that dark horse team? Really, still no one is talking about Houston. They have played fantastic and the Rockets would be a buzz saw to play in any single game or even a seven-game series. You know they’re gonna shoot 30 3s. If they get hot, that’s an amazing number to try to match offensively. And no one is really talking about them. The hubbub is OKC and San Antonio and the Clippers to a large extent. People are talking about Golden State and the Splash Brothers more than they are about Houston. I think Houston is a legitimate team.”

Michael Beasley, Heat: “Miami. That’s the only team I’m worried about, the only team I think about. I don’t even want to imagine nobody else making a run, nobody else doing nothing.”


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew discusses the Bobcats and Al Jefferson’s play

LaMarcus Aldridge, Trail Blazers: “I think every team in the West is capable of being that Butler type team. It’s so close, so many good teams. It just depends which week or two you’re talking about. We’ve seen that all season long. Remember how Memphis came in and beat San Antonio in the playoffs a couple of years ago? Golden State over Dallas a few years earlier. I think everybody is close and there are so many good teams in any matchup that in the NCAA Tournament arrangement, you might be able to play it three or four times and get a different team out of the West every time.”

Paul George, Pacers: “I think Phoenix. I think the Suns could do it because that’s a consistent team. They don’t rely on just one or two players to get most of their offense. They really spread things around. They really get after you all the time. They always play hard and bring it to you. They always want to attack. And in a tournament setting, they’ve got enough guys to make shots and make plays. They would just have to get hot at the right time, which we’ve seen from them this season. They’ve taken down tough opponents. They beat us twice, OKC. So that’s a team that could be very dangerous if it was tournament time.”

Dwight Howard, Rockets: “The Rockets. Despite anything that we’ve done and any games that we’ve won, I think in general we’re still a team that nobody’s looked at as a real contender. But you know, I like being the underdog. We’d like to keep ourselves being overlooked as much as possible through the end of the season and going into the playoffs. In a tournament, in the playoffs, we’re that kind of team that I believe and rise up and surprise people.”

Dwyane Wade, Heat: “I guess if look at the West, I’d say Phoenix could be a bracket-busting Butler. That’s a team that could get hot. Lot of weapons, lot of different people and ways to score and they don’t seem to let up. That style they play, they’re always going. In the East maybe the Bobcats. They play very well together. They’ve got a big man in Al Jefferson that can go 1-on-1 and can score. That’s a team that’s also been playing hard all year, been really gaining in confidence. So if you tossed them into a tournament setting, I’d say, yeah, they could go on a run.”

Danny Green, Spurs: “Phoenix. I was watching them play and they’re very dangerous at home. You know they don’t back down from anybody. They beat Indiana and OKC. We’ve lost to them this season. They love to get out and run. They move the ball fast and they don’t ever let up. If they’re healthy, they’re gonna come after you nonstop and they could do something like go on a run through a tournament. That pace of play is tough to deal with. Another team you’d have to watch out for is Dallas. They’ve got weapons and you’d always have to watch out for Dirk getting on a roll.”

Damian Lillard, Trail Blazers: “Oh, I wouldn’t want to do that. But if you want a dangerous team that maybe nobody would pick, I’d say Sacramento. They got a lot of weapons — Isaiah Thomas, Rudy Gay, DeMarcus Cousins, now Reggie Evans over there with some experience. Derrick Williams. They got a lot of pieces they can throw out there. If they get going, they could beat some people and go far. That’s a capable team.”

Wesley Matthews, Trail Blazers: “In the West anybody can beat anybody. You’ve got four or five teams with over 40 wins at this point in the season. You’ve seen teams go on runs with different styles. Houston went on a run recently. We went on a run earlier. Pick a day of the week. Anybody could be Butler.”

Francisco Garcia, Rockets: “I would say Phoenix, because they score in so many ways. I think everybody would take them lightly at the beginning of a tournament since they’re young and they don’t have a team filled up with All-Stars. It’s easy from the outside to overlook them. It’s only when you get out there on the court and see how hard they play and see how they are so good at moving the ball around and getting offensive from a lot of different places that you find out how good they can be. So if you put them in that kind of situation, where you get to play them only once, they could have a lot of success and make a run.”


VIDEO: The Starters talk about teams primed to make noise in the playoffs

More Than Kings Games At Stake With Cousins’ Suspension


VIDEO: DeMarcus Cousins gets into altercation with Patrick Beverley

DeMarcus Cousins of the Kings increased the degree of difficulty in his latest walk on the wild side, this time going for the double of being suspended and fined for separate incidents in the same game, a feat accomplished Tuesday against the Rockets at Sleep Train Arena.

The league announced Thursday that Cousins, long considered a cheap-shot artist by opponents, will not play Friday against the Lakers at Staples Center as the penalty for punching Houston’s Patrick Beverley in the stomach in the first quarter of what became a 129-103 Rockets victory. The NBA also docked Cousins $20,000 for “verbally abusing” officials and “failing to leave the court in a timely manner” when he was ejected in the third quarter with two technicals.

The absence will be felt in Sacramento and observed in Los Angeles, but also noted in Phoenix and Durham, N.C., as a reminder that this matters more than to Cousins and his 2013-14 finish.

This matters to USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo in Arizona and to coach Mike Kryzyewski at Duke, it matters to the formation of the Team USA roster heading toward an important summer, and therefore it should matter to Cousins. That exhibition play, in fact, should matter a lot to Cousins, probably more than to any other player.

Cousins turned off USAB officials a couple summers ago, then won them back over enough to be among the 28 players in the initial pool of candidates for the roster at the FIBA Basketball World Cup beginning in August in Spain. He wasn’t going to win any citizenship awards, but Cousins carried himself better, enough that his attitude seemed to be improving. With no doubts about his ability to succeed on offense in the international game – he can pass and shoot with range – the encouraging signs in his personality were enough to be on the list released in January.

Now he has been suspended for punching a player for the second time in as many seasons, following the one-game hit in December 2012 for striking O.J. Mayo of the Mavericks in the groin. And that is on top of Cousins leading the league in technicals in 2013-14 and, thanks to Tuesday’s ejection, being one T away from an automatic one-game suspension, with the possibility of more to follow.

This won’t get Cousins removed from the mailing list for invitations for the Team USA camp in Las Vegas after the summer league schedule, but it’s an obvious setback at the very wrong time. If he could have gone from putting up All-Star numbers this season to a positive review from the most impartial judges possible, Chairman C and Coach K, Cousins would have positioned himself as a legitimate dependable star. That could have happened even if he didn’t make the World Cup roster while handling himself well because Team USA preferred, say, the defense of Dwight Howard, Andre Drummond or Tyson Chandler since there would be no doubt about the offense heading to Spain.

That 28-player pool is just a working list, after all. Players can still be added for the Vegas sessions, though all the primary names are already included. Players can still be removed.

Banged-Up Spurs Find Footing After (Another) Solid Rodeo Road Trip


VIDEO: Spurs coach Gregg Popovich talks about Kawhi Leonard’s expected return to the lineup

OK, so maybe Tim Duncan wasn’t just a frisky young colt the last time the Spurs played a game at the AT&T Center. It could be that Manu Ginobili didn’t have his long, flowing hair that flopped in the wind when he flopped on the court or that Tony Parker was still coach Gregg Popovich’s favorite teenaged whipping boy.

It just seems that long ago.

When Rudy Gay’s last ditch 3-pointer missed on Feb. 1, the Spurs were able to claw past the Kings to end a three-game losing streak, hoping to crawl out of town in search of recuperation and recovery.

That’s exactly what the Spurs found on their annual rodeo road trip that might once more have saved their season. The Spurs have been forced to vacate their arena for the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo for an extended stretch each season since 2003 and have never brought home a losing record in their luggage.

This time, the Spurs traveled 8,989 miles through four time zones and left with a broken lineup that had been missing three starters — Ginobili, Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green — and before the journey left the East Coast in Boston, Parker and Tiago Splitter had to take their turns on the shelf.

Yet they returned with an unlikely 6-3 mark that keeps them No. 2 in the Western Conference entering their first home game in 25 nights against the Pistons (8:30 p.m. ET, League Pass). It was an experience that while testing their depth, resolve and supply of bandages in their medical kit could once again give the Spurs the faith in the full roster and the necessary belief in themselves again down the stretch toward the playoffs.

“We’ve been looking for some consistency, and I saw more of that on the trip,” Duncan told Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News. “I saw the effort and execution. We’re still making a lot of mistakes, but that might just be me being around Pop too long and trying to be a perfectionist.

“We’ve improved, our confidence is there, and to see we’re operating with our 10th, 11th and 12th guys just like we are with the first guys will be huge for us and pay dividends down the stretch.”

Popovich for years has monitored and kept a lid on the minutes of his core players while maximizing virtually every man on his roster. But this Rodeo Trip might have been his best work yet. Green returned for the first game of the trip, but Leonard (nine), Ginobili (six), Splitter (four), Duncan (one) Boris Diaw (one) and Aron Baynes (one) each missed games during the trip. Parker missed the last three games because of assorted aches and pains and Popovich said he will continue to rest “for the foreseeable future.”

The Spurs even got a big win at Portland on a night when they played without the starting trio of Duncan, Parker and Leonard.

“Good trip for us,” Duncan said. “We would love to have played better (in Phoenix), but we’ve got a couple days to rest now, and hopefully we can continue to add people back to the squad and get ready for some home games finally.”

After a solid 35-6 record a year ago, the Spurs have already lost eight home games this season. They were staggering and lacked sharp execution, which made rediscovering their cohesiveness and how they play more important than where they play.

Returning home doesn’t necessarily mean a return to the lineup for Parker. After playing so deep into June in The Finals with the Spurs, Parker spent last summer playing for the French national team and led an unprecedented charge for a first-ever championship. Though the summer play kept him sharp for 2013-14, it also clearly sapped his energy and might have led to his nagging injuries. That’s why Popovich is sitting Parker now and remains determined not to put him back into the lineup until Parker is fully recovered, rested and playoff-ready.

It means Parker’s teammates will have to keep the rodeo trip attitude rolling, especially backup point guard Patty Mills.

“I think as long as the emotion, the passion, is always there, you can get it done,” Popovich said. “Look at (Russell) Westbrook, how long he was out. Look at Chris (Paul), what the Clippers did when he was out.

“When you’re on a team with a bunch of guys who care and want to be the last team standing, it’s not so much turning it on and off. It’s just the team rolls without you, just keeps going. Then you plug yourself back in. That’s what good teams do.”

Once again, the long road of the rodeo trip has brought the Spurs home with a deeper sense of who they can be.


VIDEO: Patty Mills discusses the Spurs’ big win over the L.A. Clippers